Due to the cold and a couple of very vivid dreams I woke up several times during the night. When I finally got up at 06:25 Through the bus windows I could see a clear blue sky and I was looking forward to the day ahead. Nico was still hidden under a pile of blankets but the other pilgrim got up and started heating some water which he used to prepare the pot noodle I had given him yesterday. I still had no idea what his story was but if he really was homeless and just walking around the trail relying on people's goodwill, I had no problem with that. I shook Nico awake to tell him that I was probably going to stick to Route 55 and stop in Shishikui, and with a few parting words for the other pilgrim I headed for the Lawson.
I wanted my coffee and something to eat but the Lawson was not doing any coffee so I got myself a snack and headed for Yakuoji (#23). I had already gone through my prayer rituals yesterday but I headed back to the main hall and prayed again in front of the main hall. It was a beautiful bright sunny morning and after taking a few more photographs I headed for the Sunkust convenience store opposite Hiwasa michi-no-eki in the hope of finding myself a coffee there. With a coffee and enough snacks for the day ahead I sat outside the convenience for nearly 30 minutes enjoying the early morning sunshine. Hiwasa michi-no-eki opposite actually looked like a great place to stay. There was a covered hut and a few other places where you could probably safely pitch a tent under cover. Plus the hot spa I had visited yesterday was very close by too. The last time I had passed this way everything had been shrouded in darkness .
It was turning into a gloriously sunny day as I finally set of from the Sunkust and ahead of me I was pondering one of 2 possible routes. There was the familiar Route 55 which meant plenty of traffic and plenty of tunnels or there was the Minami Skyline route which I had only read about on someone's online blog. When I got to the spot where I needed to make a clear decision I stopped and spent a few moments doing nothing more than dithering. I asked a local lady if the Minami Skyline was as nice as I had read it was and she told me it was nice but 5km longer than Route 55. The emphasis seemed to be on the extra 5km so I thanked her and dithered a little bit longer. Knowing how pretty the coast line was and with a plan to camp at Shishikui michi-no-eki the decision was easy. An extra 5km on a beautiful sunny day along the coast was definitely the best choice so after all the dithering I finally headed in the direction of the Minami Skyline.
After a gentle start the road started to climb higher and higher into the mountains and from the higher elevation I started to get wonderful views of both the sea and the sky. After passing through a short tunnel, the views just got bigger and better. Ahead of me I could make out the shape of some palm trees and the outline of a rest hut silhouetted against a clear blue sky. When I arrived at the spot about 15 minutes later I discovered it was the first of four designated observation points along the Minami Skyline. The view looking out to sea and up and down the coast was really fantastic and in no hurry to move on, I took of my boots and relaxed there much longer than I had initially intended. I wasn't sure if it was allowed but it got me thinking that, on a clear warm night, it would be a great place to stop. There was a single vending machine and excellent washroom facilities close by.
After finally dragging myself away I continued on stopping again close to what I thought was probably the second observation point. This time I stayed close to the road opposite a large house or what looked like some sort of paid lodging. There had been few if any buildings along the route up to this point and I had only seen one or two passing cars. As I stood there I was surprised to see a runner coming up towards me. He turned into the large car park opposite, ran around the perimeter and was heading down again when I called out to him to ask him if I was at Observation No. 2. He had not gone very far, so he stopped and came running back up to me. He looked like a serious runner and I had probably put a little dent in his time but he he answered my question by pointing in the direction of the car park to indicate that yes, it was Observation No. 2. Being a keen runner myself I would have loved to have found out how often he ran along the Minami Skyline and to tell him that I had run the Mt. Fuji Summit Race a few years earlier but not wanting to delay him too much, I decided to give him a photograph, which I helpfully slotted into the small runners backpack he was wearing. With that he was of again and I continued on and stopped for the final time at Observation No. 4. Of the four, Observation No. 4 turned out to be the best one of the lot. The view at Observation No. 1 was fantastic but the one here was even better. There was no vending machine and no washroom facilities but it looked like some workmen nearby may well have been preparing the foundations for one. The views were really stunning and there was much more space to walk about near the rest hut. I again set my pack down, took my boots of and placed them on the small fence in front to give them some sun too.
The decision to take the Minami Skyline had been absolutely the right one to take. The general calm was only broken when I noticed I had been joined by a middle aged couple who arrived by car and were now just enjoying the views. When I looked over in their direction the man greeted me so I walked over to talk to them. It was easy for them to see what I was doing but they were naturally surprised that I was doing it fora second time. They were surprised too that I had lived for 2 years in Kagawa because the woman turned out to be a native of Kagawa. Both were now living in Malaysia and just back in Shikoku for a visit. I decided to give them each a photograph and with that done that I got myself ready and continued on my way.
The weather had remained really great and around 1 o'clock I came of the Minami Skyline route and saw signs for Route 55. I asked an elderly lady for clearer directions, gave her a photograph and continued on towards Mugi Station. I was thinking about something to eat and as I approached a tunnel at the other end of which I knew was a Lawson, I completely failed to notice that on the other side of the road another brand new looking ohenro hut. As it was, someone manning the hut had spotted me and came out to call me over. In fact it had 3 volunteers manning the hut and while one served me hot tea and small cakes, I was telling the one who had called me over a little about myself. It was another great looking hut but it was only for resting purposes only and it was the first one that I had found that was manned. It had in fact just recently been opened so the volunteers were taking details of people passing through. After a second cup of tea and a few more snacks, I gave them a photograph, thanked them for their hospitality and then continued through the tunnel to the Lawson on the other side.
The Lawson was planned to to my extended lunch and rest stop before I pushing over the final 17km to Shishikui where I planned to camp at the Shishikui michi-no-eki. This particular Lawson served freshly prepared udon so I got some udon and sat and ate it in the shop. After getting myself cleaned up I sat and just watched people come and go. It was coming up to 2 o'clock and although another 17km was not a huge distance, after the leisurely 22km I had already walked I needed push myself to get myself ready to head on again. In the shop I had listened to the poor woman at the cash point was being harangued by some other customers so before leaving I gave her a photograph and then headed towards my next stop which was going to be Saba Daishi. I had stopped briefly at Saba Daishi during my first pilgrimage. It was one of the bangai temples and I just wanted to stop there in order to pray.
After Saba Daishi, my next planned stop was Cafe Fukunaga and the reason for wanting to stop there was more than just nostalgia. During my first pilgimage I had left the Hashimoto Bus Zenkonyado at 03:30 in the morning and followed Route 55 all the way in the dark until day break. I had probably not missed much but I remembered coming across Saba Daishi and after that Cafe Fukunaga. The woman who ran it had been incredibly kind to me that morning and I had spent a whole hour sitting at the counter chatting to her. Today I didn't really have time to stay but I just wanted to express my thanks by giving her some of my photographs. As I approached the cafe I recognized immediately and as I headed towards the front door, she came out to greet me and welcomed me inside. I wasn't planning to stop so quickly told her about my previous visit more than 3 and half years earlier and that I wanted to give her some photographs. There were two she particularly liked so I let her have both of them. I then asked her to pose with the photographs so I could photograph her. I had photographed her the first time too and I was thinking it would be nice to send her a copy of both when I got back. As I as about to head of again she offered me coffee as osettai but having already had plenty of coffee during the day I suggested water would be enough.
Inside there were 3 elderly guests singing karaoke but other than the place was just as I remembered it. Whatever it was, it was good to be sitting there again. As I sat there my mind took me back to that morning when I had last been there on a beautifully warm sunny morning feeling really happy. As I thought about it I suddenly felt very sad and for reasons I couldn't explain tears welled up in my eyes. I wiped them away hoping no one had noticed. She served me water, a single strawberry and small toasted bun. During that first pilgrimage she had prepared a simple breakfast which was not on the menu. Looking at her now she looked to have aged a little but I could sense the same kindness she had shown that day. She asked if I would like to sing a song. I didn't but I would have liked her to sing a song that I really liked. It was a song from a hit a hit TV drama series Amachan and I had found it absolutely addictive. I think she would have done the song real justice. However, asking her to sing it would have taken up more time and I still had to walk another 6km before it got dark. Before I left the shop I got her to write her address in my notebook so I could send her some more photographs when I returned.
Feeling composed again, I thanked her for the osettai and told her it had been good that I had been able to meet her again. She came out to say goodbye and with that I picked up the pace and arrived in Shishikui just as it was getting dark. I had been picking up extra supplies all day in anticipation of staying out and I stopped again at a 7 Eleven to pick up a few more. Having got what I wanted to buy I headed for the check out and found myself behind a mother and her young daughter. There were two check outs but a queue had built up and some of the customers were getting a little restless at what seemed like a long wait. The mother had actually asked me to go ahead of her when I joined the queue but I had told her it was fine. Under non-ohenro conditions I may also have shared in the general restlessness of my fellow customers but I waited patiently. My patience seemed to yield it's own reward because after exiting the shop the mother approached and gave me a hot tea which I had seen her buy in the store. The tea was osettai for me she said and I immediately pulled out my photographs and told her to select one. I had not visited any temples today but I had ended up giving away a lot of photographs and for situations like this one they had again been a perfect way to respond.
I found the michi-no-eki and it was tiny in comparison to the one in Hiwasa. I wondered whether there really could be an onsen there at all so I went into the only building there was and asked where it was and was told it was in the hotel next door. I walked over and then spent an hour in the onsen easing away the aches and pains in my feet and shoulders. Nothing was better than sitting in a hot spa after a long day of walking and today had been the longest day of the pilgrimage so far having covered 39km. After finishing with the onsen I came out and sat outside in a seating area. The onsen closed at 11 o'clock so I hoped I could stay for as long as possible and then head out and set up my tent at the michi-no-eki. I had access to the wifi so I checked my email and then continued to type up my notes for the day.
The hotel staff were coming up and down the stairs and I was conscious I was not a hotel guest so I asked if it would be OK to stay a little while longer. I was told lights would be going out at 11 o'clock and up until that time it was fine. Local people also seemed to be using the onsen so maybe it wasn't too much of a problem to be sitting there. A mother and her son who had just finished using the hot spa commented on the size of backpack and also my ohenro gear. The usual kind of friendly conversation ensued at the end of which I gave the mother a photograph. A little while later a man approached, sat himself down at my table and asked me where I was going to stay. Under ordinary circumstances you would be forgiven for being a little cautious but I told him I was camping out. He suggested I could come and sleep at his home. Accepting ossettai is part of ohenro tradition but I didn't really feel comfortable with it and with returning 20km back in the direction I had come. And even though he promised to return me back to Shishikui the following morning I very kindly declined his offer and offered him one of my photographs instead.
I finally left the hotel at around 22:45 and instead of heading to the michi-no-eki as I had planned I headed further on and decided to see how suitable the hut was. When I got to the rest hut which was not to far from the hotel I found it was situated well away from the main road, was square in shape and raised up on stilts with steps leading up inside. Best of all was that it was relatively enclosed and when I looked inside I saw a tent already set up on one side between the benches and a fixed table in the middle. I apologised for interrupting whoever was there. At first I thought it might be Nico so I called out quietly and asked if it was Nico. No answer came but I had already decided that I could squeeze my tent in on the other side and started to set up my own tent as quickly as I could and doing my best not too make too much noise. Getting in and out of the tent was a little tricky because the tent opening was partially obstructed by the table but I didn't plan on getting in and out too many times. With the mat inflated and the sleeping bag laid out I put all my things inside the tent and squeezed myself inside and got into my sleeping bag. Once inside it felt reasonably comfortable and with the time now past midnight I decided to leave the remainder of my note writing to the following day.
As I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore on the other side of the road and thinking about the day, all I could think about was, what an absolutely fantastic day it had been. It was easily one of the best days, if not the the best day of the whole journey so far. I had felt ecstatic after arriving at Shosanji (#12) but today it was the incredible calmness I felt walking alone on the Minami Skyline route that would make it for sure one the most memorable of this journey. There had been virtually no traffic, I'd only met a handful of people at the observation points and virtually no one at all along the rest of the way. It was a combination of the weather, the beautiful sights and maybe even a little to do with overcoming my own dithering over whether to take the Minami Skyline route or not, that had contributed to making it a really really great day. With a calmer mind the world seemed to look a lot different and it occurred to me that seeking spiritual answers to some of life's questions was one way to make sense of events but another was to just use your common sense. Walking the pilgrimage on a day like today was maybe a good way to reflect on both the spiritual and common sense answers to the questions and quandaries that life sometimes throws up.
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